At any given hour, O’Hare traffics travelers from across the globe with amazing efficiency for an airport of its grand size. Planes arrive, dock, are serviced by pit crews that could rival NASCAR teams, and depart into the skies from which they came with a new cast of passengers. People of all sizes scurry beyond one another; each could tell tales of exotic places from which they came or are going, if one had the time to listen. Staring out the window of the waiting area in terminal C25 a plump old man in a tropical shirt observes a pair of young men filling the plane’s tank, lubricating the axles of the landing gear, and marking a clipboard with their progress. He slowly lowers his girth into a plastic seat designed for people much thinner than himself, lowers the brim of his hat and releases a depressurizing sigh. He retrieves a newspaper from a carry-on bag resting against his ankle.
“You have a long beard,” a small voice from the seat to his right catches his attention. He lowers sunglasses to the tip of his puffy nose. A girl no more than six gawks curiously at him, her long pigtails the color of hay. Beyond her, an embarrassed mother tugs the girl’s arm, hoping the child’s simple observation did not come across too brash.
“Kyleigh, leave the nice man alone…”
“It’s quite alright ma’am,” the earnest smile slightly elevates the long white beard. “I love children. Their innocent words can’t help but make you smile.”
“Are you having a baby?” Kyleigh pokes his soft stomach, causing him to chuckle loudly. The mother turns the color of sunburn.
“Ho ho ho… no Kyleigh there’s just a lot of me.”
“I’m sorry sir,” the mother lowers her head, “she’s been rambunctious since she left her favorite doll at the last layover. She’s just bored…”
Kyleigh’s face displays a terrible sadness with her mother’s reminding words. “I miss Kiki Belle. Mom says I can see Kiki Belle again when we are home.”
He frowns sympathetically, “I know it’s no fun travelling without your friends. Maybe Kiki Belle doesn’t like airplanes, and is hiding. Maybe you just didn’t look hard enough for her.” Though the man speaks in a promising tone, Kyleigh’s mother is disturbed that he is filling her daughter with false hopes. She is certain the doll had been left behind, and Kyleigh will only be more distraught after failing to find it again.
“Kiki Belle likes planes,” Kyleigh states in protest.
“Yes. Do you?”
The man chuckles again, “Planes are amazing, but not the way I prefer to travel if I can help it.”
Kyleigh looks the man up and down, “You look a lot like…”
“That’s enough dear,” her mother prevents further embarrassment. Kyleigh retracts in her chair and begins to hum ‘Deck the Halls’.
He smiles and looks up at the intercom announcement. “…Mr. and Mrs. Kringle please report to the gate for check in.”
“Oh dear that’s me,” the old man makes eye contact with an elderly woman at the check-in booth that could only be his wife. He rubs his nose and raises his sunglasses as he squirms to a stand. He grabs his carry-on bag, “Orlando, here we come!”
Kyleigh’s mother wears a puzzled look. Did they just announce Kringle? That man could certainly pass for Saint Nick… but Kringle cannot possibly be his real name…
“Mommy!” Kyleigh bounces beside her, “Look Mommy look!!” Her daughter pulls a rag doll from her pink backpack, the unmistakable Kiki Belle’s button eyes stare back at the girl.
Her mother watches the elder couple depart down the umbilical to the plane, his jolly voice booming, “Woohoo! Spring break!!”